Monday, December 29, 2014

India, outside India

In this age of globalization, boundaries of language, culture, tradition are rendered thin for the citizens to cross and assimilate into what is thrown at them. This is something very interesting and can broaden horizons, leaving behind the parochial thinking and mindset. This in turn makes individuals sensitive, compassionate towards others and accept them as they are. This also results in exchange of cultures, languages, social etiquette's etc. India being a land of one of the oldest civilization is at the forefront of this symbiosis. Indian diaspora being spread across the globe has been influencing the inhabitants of the land they have made their home. To the very far corners of the globe, Indians residing there have adopted the rule of the land, and in return passed on to the locals our rich, diverse cultures, traditions, languages and gastronomic recipes.

In recent years Indians have taken India to the world in a very big way, be it our festivals, food, music, fashion and much more. The west and others have accepted with open arms, whatever India has to offer. Take for example the Diwali celebrations in White House. This was a big moment for India wherein the most powerful nation in this world, and predominantly Christian understood the significance of Diwali and celebrated it like it was their own. The other Indian product known as “Yoga” is a big hit everywhere and more and more people worldwide are practicing it whole heartedly. Yoga according to them has a holistic approach which can help them have healthy bodies and most importantly a healthy mind.
Diwali in White House
Diwali celebrated in White House
Culinary Delights
Indian food, for its spices and variety, has been popular since many years. The Spicy Indian food is loved by many across the globe. The curry restaurants worldwide and especially in UK have done tremendously well, thanks to the British who gorge on them besides many other Indian delicacies. One of my Irish clients was visiting India for project work. He was thrilled to see so many varieties of Indian food which he ate, as if there was no tomorrow. The soggy pancakes (Gulab Jam) were something which he simply loved and could not resist. He rued saying he would have to wait for long to taste this kind of delicious food. To my surprise he found one in Dublin which served Indian food, and now I hear he is a regular visitor to this joint. There are many such stories. The most interesting one that I heard was during Wimbledon championship in London few years back. Vijay Amritraj had Martina Navratilova for company in the commentator’s box. While they chit chatted about India, how can food be left out. To my utter surprise, Martina said, she simply loves the “Bhendi ki Bhaji”. I was so dumbfounded to hear this that I was about to fall from my chair.

Martina loves Indian food
Martina loves "Bhendi ki bhaji"
Indian Music

Classical Indian music is something which has a huge audience outside India, they travel to India for various music festivals and have gone an extra mile to learn the art. One such experience would remain with me all my life. During one of the concerts at Sawai Gandharva in Pune, an announcement was a pleasant surprise to all present there. The announcement was, Sir Alfred Nobel's niece and nephew had travelled all the way from Norway to attend the Sawai Gandharva as they had a great liking for Indian classical music. On hearing this, the niece and nephew wearing Indian attire stood up with folded hands. There was a thunderous applause for almost 10 minutes which still echoes in my ears.

Indian Sartorial Craze

Indian bindi, henna, fine fabric is a rage in the west, and we see more and more people donning it during festivals and marriages. Seeing the westerners in a sari and Salwar Kurtas is a sight to behold, because they love it and it looks good on them. Indian fashion is making waves in the west, and many celebrities are donning Indian fabric with aplomb. World famous fashion guru, Tommy Hilfiger recently said, he likes Indian sartorial style and he draws a lot of inspiration from it.
Indian films

Indian movies year after year are spreading its wings to far off countries. The audiences worldwide are exposed to Indian cinema and they have taken great liking for it; the dance routines or the joie de vivre feeling that emanates from the Indian cinema has caught everybody’s attention. America’s first lady Michelle Obama could not resist the dance moves on popular Hindi film songs. In many Hollywood movies you would see Indian themes being handled and liked. Indian cinema is garnering huge support worldwide. These are the best times for India and everything Indian is in vogue.

Michelle Obama dancing to Hindi songs
India everywhere
We are no less than others, our food, fashion, culture, language has crossed the boundaries and has become global. Quintessential Indian dishes are occupying the podium positions at various culinary competitions worldwide, Millions of Americans gather together and practice Yoga. Indian festivals like Diwali, "Ganesh Chaturthi" are celebrated with great fanfare in many abodes outside India. Many Europeans, Americans travel to India to be part of the Waari chanting "Gyanba Tukaram" and singing bhajans in the same breathe as the other warkaris. There are many such stories of Indian influence on the west and other parts of the world. Indians with their unique blend of modern and traditional way of living are mesmerizing citizens across the globe, and this augurs well for India and the rest. As they say "You can take a man out of India, but you cannot take an Indian out of him". Way to go India…

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Kashmir: A Paradise Lost

"Kitni khoobsurat yeh tasveer hai Mausam bemisal be-nazeer hai Yeh Kashmir hai, yeh Kashmir hai." This soulful song and many other reverberate in my mind when I think of Kashmir, A paradise on earth. This northern state of India has mesmerized millions of people worldwide for ages with its unbridled beauty. With abundant scenic beauty, picture perfect snow laden mountains, flora and fauna, capable of turning you into a poet, Kashmir undoubtedly is an epitome of beauty, a heaven on earth.
Kashmir: Dal Lake
Dal Lake
Kashmir: Shikaras
Shikaras & Dal Lake
In past, no Hindi movie was ever complete without being shot at various picturesque locations of Kashmir; its beauty casting a spell on everybody who got a dekho at it. Every inch of this land oozes serenity, beauty, be it the snow covered mountains, the pristine Dal lake, the majestic gardens, the ubiquitous Chinar trees or the verdant land. Everything about it is exquisite, beyond explanation, only to be experienced, felt, consumed, and relished. Heavens would have taken special time, expertise to create this nature’s bounty on earth for mortals to enjoy and rave about. If gods would have chosen to stay on earth, they would have definitely chosen Kashmir. Though there is a twist in the tale and that too on the worst side.
Kashmir: Snow clad mountains
Snow clad mountains
Kashmir: House Boats & Dal Lake
Many facets of beautiful Kashmir
Kashmir: Shikaras in Dal Lake
Ubiquitous Shikaras

Who is responsible for this mayhem?

Since long, this paradise has been experiencing unrest, terrorism, thanks to our neighbor who has cast an evil eye on this region. To not allow the people of Kashmir enjoy peace and tranquility, is what this neighbors sinister plan is, though every attempt of theirs has been thwarted by our brave Jawan’s who toil, risk their lives in this part of the world to maintain peace, and to alleviate people’s misery. To add to the woes, some of the separatists groups here are doing everything possible to thwart every attempt of progress and growth for the people. A common Kashmiri is tired of this instability and wants a peaceful life for himself and his family. In the past peace was like a flash in the pan, very short lived. But in the recent times, except for few skirmishes here and there, Kashmir has been peaceful, thanks to the Indian army. Kashmiris have taken the difficult past in their stride, and were looking forward to a meaningful life, and then a tragedy struck again, a man made tragedy, a result of their ongoing abuse of the nature.

Nature's Fury
How long the nature is going to withstand its unabashed, rampant abuse at the hands of an insatiable beast called Humans? It is going to retaliate, and retaliate hard when the line is crossed. This is what nature did to Kashmir. It has flooded the Kashmir valley like never before, throwing the wretched life of a Kashmiri out of gear. The recent floods in the valley have wreaked havoc, resulting in unprecedented loss life and property. The water level is yet to recede and Kashmiris are forced to commute using make shift boats through the lanes. Entire belongings of most of the Kashmiris are for everyone to see, floating as debris on the water. They have been perched on roof tops for days to save themselves from these marauding floods, sans food, medicines and bare necessities. 

Kashmir Floods: Flooded Lanes
Flooded Lanes
Kashmir Floods: Debris floating on water
Debris everywhere
When nature strikes hard it makes no difference between young n old, rich n poor, it simply decimates anything that comes in its way. Many Kashmiris have lost their lives to this rule of the nature. Many of them are still marooned in far flung places waiting eagerly for a Good Samaritan to get them out of this mess. Along with the belongings many of them have also lost the hope, their despondent look says it all. Water, the nature’s boon to humans is now turned into a bane. A bird’s eye view of the valley gives an impression of city of Venice, but with pain, misery, hopelessness as its companions. Why this has happened to Kashmir? Who is responsible for this tragedy? The answers are many and harsh, is anybody going to take them head on?

Kashmir Floods
Kashmir floods

My Bad, will someone accept the wrongdoing?

Nature is resilient and kind enough to overlook man’s mistake and maintain the required balance, but when this abuse, reaches a crescendo, nature fights back with vengeance. This is exactly what happened to the valley. Sustained deforestation, shrinking water bodies, encroachment on Eco-sensitive areas, scant or no regards to nature’s requirement, contributed to this catastrophe. Statistics say the Dal Lake has shrunk to 15 square kms from 25 few decades ago. Massive encroachments in the form of hotels, new structures, and house boats are the real culprits for this ignominy. Other water bodies like canals have been buried under the debris to make way for multi-lane roads. Wanton deforestation to accommodate farm houses and forests trails for the rich and the influential can be attributed to this damage. Polluting the environment adds to the tally. This has been the story of the Kashmir valley for some time now. Environment with its caring nature, does provide warnings to mend our ways before hell breaks loose, but we humans pay no heed to these signs and continue the rape of the Mother Nature. The local authorities failed to implement the contingent plan when similar ominous signs were broadcasted by the nature, the result the current mayhem. Who should be tried in the court of law for these many murders? The corrupt officials who permitted constructions where they should not have been, or the authorities who allowed encroachments on the Dal Lake and elsewhere? Or the callous politicians who never understood the meaning of, “a planned development in harmony with nature?” Or for that matter the common Kashmiri, who littered, polluted the surroundings with no regards to the cry of the Mother Nature. 

Kashmir floods: Who is guilty
Who is responsible for this tragedy
Whoever it is, the damage is already done. Some of the locals, who spent most of their lives in the valley, rue the present conditions. Amitabh Mattoo (Chief Executive Officer & inaugural Director of the Australia India Institute and Professor of International Relations at the University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) who spent his childhood in the valley reminisces the wonderful years when the valley was at its best, the time spent in using the shikaras to commute from one place to other in the Dal Lake. The valley was far from the hustle and bustle of today and was serene and beautiful. He feels sorry for the current state of affairs in his birthplace. There are many who had the privilege of staying in this paradise and who echo the same sentiments as Amitabh Mattoo.

What next?

The people of Kashmir are an agitated lot, for many reasons. The rescue mission and the help provided by the government are far from satisfactory. There is a heavy shortage of food, medicines, and the people are losing their patience. There have been rumors of influential and selected few given precedence during the rescue operations by the local government. This has upset the others and are hurling abuses at the politicians. During this entire clamor, Indian army has been working round the clock rescuing people while putting their lives at stakes. More than a lakh people have been rescued so far by the army and counting. People of Kashmir want others to help them get out of this rut, and provide food, shelter, medicines. There is a great chance of epidemic outbreak which can augment their problems. The silver lining to this is the humaneness demonstrated by people practicing different faiths. There have been stories wherein a Hindu family feeding a Muslim family, in turn a Muslim family providing shelter to the distressed Sikh family. Sikh families sharing their medicines with others, even though they had a small supply. This is truly endearing and proves, humanity still existing on this earth. Though this bonhomie always perplexes many, why a distress is a catalyst for people of different faiths to stay in peace together and help each other. Why can’t we practice humanity at other times as well? People of India have risen to the occasion and are helping fellow countrymen, Kashmiri brothers and sisters resurrect their lives. Monetary help besides other is flowing to the valley to get their life on track and bring hope in their distraught lives. 

When are we going to learn the lessons?

Uttarakhand tragedy is still fresh in our minds when this happened. We have still not learnt any lessons from the past mistakes and continue to take nature for granted. What needs to be done so that we respect nature and handle it with care? Obviously we don’t need any more upheavals to give away our insane behavior. Let’s get educated and compassionate towards the nature. Let’s not tear apart the ecosystem by our indifferent practices and allow it to avenge our misdeeds. The choices have to be made now, either live in harmony with nature and benefit from its magnanimity or abuse it to get decimated.
We hope this calamity gets over soon and we see Kashmir in all its glory, giving happiness, and pleasure to the visitors. More importantly we hope life of Kashmiris return to normalcy and that they prosper, though not by tearing apart the nature’s gift, but living in harmony with it.
Kashmir Floods: Rebuilding Kashmir
The Kashmir we want to see
Kashmir Floods: Chinar Leaf
Chinar Leaf - Identity Of Kashmir

Kashmir Floods: Shikaras in all its glory
Shikaras in all its glory
Thanks a lot to my friend Sonika and Kartik for sharing their personal collections of Kashmir photos with me.

Hat's off to our army for the rescue operation they have undertaken risking their own lives. This article won't be complete without mentioning many aid workers, journalists, commoners who are spending sleepless days and nights and giving a new life to many affected people.